It’s no secret that I believe the sports park is an ill-conceived proposition on many grounds.
In my submission on the Hastings draft LTCCP, I simply comment on the opportunity cost the project represents. A huge amount of Council mind share and resources are going into an initiative that, even if legal hurdles are overcome and external funding is found, will ultimately serve fewer people and achieve less of its claimed social goals than alternative community-based strategies.
The situation with Hastings District playgrounds is a case in point.
According to the Hastings LTCCP, we cannot afford to build and maintain adequate neighborhood playgrounds. We’re told that Hastings ranks 32nd amongst 35 other councils in a survey of investment in play facilities. But we’re told we can’t afford a comprehensive staff-recommended play strategy (skatebowls, basketball courts, BMX and fitness areas, playgrounds) that would cost $5.3 million over ten years. So, Council has allocated $1 million and invited the public to beg for more.
What a foolish trade-off this presents! Council wants to build a sport complex at a “Phase 3” cost of $31 million (including $5 million from HDC), with a velodrome to be used by a few hundred elite racers, instead of a community-wide suite of facilities that could be used by everybody, and particularly by youngsters near their homes. What a joke it is to support the sports park in the name of encouraging youth fitness, while claiming insufficient funds for these local, accessible facilities.
This is exactly what opponents of the sports park have warned of … that it would soak up all the money, leaving many existing or needed facilities and programs unfunded.
If you were to put that trade-off before the public – sports park Phase 3 at $31 million (or even just the Council’s own $5 million investment) versus $5 million to implement the play strategy – would anyone like to bet on the outcome?
Unfortunately, the present Council will persist in its sports park misadventure, courts permitting. And so the money for playgrounds will need to be found elsewhere, if possible.
I have a suggestion. Forget about the $4.275 million expenditure on rebuilding the Council building, otherwise known as enhancing “customer service.” I suspect that fewer than 1% of Hastings ratepayers will ever need to walk the one block between the main Council Admin building and the nearby building where the Infrastructure folks are located in order to conduct their Council business. Relieving this inconvenience is a principal driver of the “customer service” investment. I say, let them walk, and chalk it up to improving their fitness.
The Hastings Council could go ahead and spend the $837,000 (out the $4.275 million) allocated for customer service technology, if that facilitates conducting more ratepayer business by phone or online, and re-allocate the rest to the play strategy.
It’s a pretty straightforward trade-off …
Easily-accessed play facilities to be enjoyed by and improve the well-being of every kid in the community (and many of their parents and grandparents), versus a bit more convenience for Council staff and a small platoon of contractors and consent-seekers.
Not a close call!
Nevertheless, if “customer service” is such a huge priority, the Council could — and this is my preference — just go ahead and abandon Phase 3 of the sports complex right now during the LTCCP review process, freeing up $5 million now committed by HDC to the project.